GABA, used as an amino acid, helps to raise GABA levels and ease physical tension-type anxiety. There are many misunderstandings on the best and most effective ways to use GABA and this can lead to unpleasant symptoms. One common thing I see is that too much GABA causes the brain and body to react with a tingling niacin-like flush sensation that is very uncomfortable and often described as awful.
Too many people stop using GABA for this reason. And then they lose out on the wonderful calming benefits of this amino acid. Some folks actually push through and continue with the unpleasant tingling sensation because they don’t know better and because they are also getting some of the calming benefits of GABA (I share an example of this below). Neither situation is ideal.
I recently received a GABA question on the blog on this very topic. It was from a licensed acupuncturist in California, USA (let’s call her Dr. M):
When I used to take GABA for my stress, my body/brain reacted with a tingling sensation.
It was so awkward and uncomfortable.
I thought it was only me, but when I prescribed GABA to my patients, they also felt the same sensations.
Can you tell me why this reaction occurred?
Thank you so much for your generosity and deep research.
Because this is such a common question that I get, I’m sharing it and my responses to use it as a teaching opportunity.
Too much GABA can cause this uncomfortable tingling niacin-like flush or sensation
I responded sharing that it can happen when too much GABA is used or if GABA is not needed. I typically hear of this happening when 500mg to 750mg is used to start. It’s also often described as a niacin-like flush. With GABA, 125mg is a typical starting dose and it’s always used as a sublingual or capsule opened onto the tongue. We slowly go up from there based on symptoms and the final dose is unique to each person’s needs. You may end up using 500mg or more but it’s a slow approach to get there.
I asked Dr. M to share which product/s she used, the dosing and let me know if she does better with a lower dose.
As expected she was using too high a dose (and hadn’t done a trial of a lower dose). She responded with this feedback:
The GABA I used for me and my patients is from Pure Encapsulations. This GABA contains 700 mg per capsule, which may be too much for the start.
Which brand would you recommend for practitioner use?
I responded by confirming that 700 mg GABA is way too much to start for most people.
What product and how much to use instead of 700 mg GABA
I like the Pure Encapsulations product but I actually feel the companies are partially at fault for having such high dose products, stating “1 capsule daily, between meals, or as directed by a health professional” on the label, and not educating practitioners and consumers about this issue.
With a product like this I have clients open up the capsule and start with 125 mg GABA powder on the tongue and increase from there as needed.
This is a lozenge that contains 125 mg GABA, 5 mg magnesium, 50 mg glycine, 25 mg tyrosine and 20 mg taurine. This is my most popular and most effective form of GABA I use with my clients. [Note: this product is a lozenge with 125mg GABA and is not to be confused with the Source Naturals, GABA Calm Mind, 750 mg tablets]
I’m waiting for feedback from her to hear how using less of the 700 mg GABA (opened up and divided out) or how using another GABA product works for her and her patients.
I do appreciate Dr. M for asking a tough question like this and being open to me sharing so everyone gets to learn.
Where did Dr. M learn about GABA and some resources for additional practitioner education
I did ask Dr. M where she learned about using GABA and if the recommendation was to use a high dose like this. I’m genuinely curious to know so I can help guide further education in the use of GABA.
Of course, I encouraged her to get my book “The Antianxiety Food Solution” and read the chapter on the amino acids. And to consider signing up for the amino acid training for practitioners. There are many nuances and best practices when using the amino acids. And it’s an opportunity to interact with me and other practitioners who are also using the amino acids.
If you’re a practitioner, I’m hoping this question, my feedback and these resources are helpful for you.
Similar niacin-like flush experienced by Holly
As mentioned above this is a very common issue because most GABA products are 500mg and up and folks hear how amazing GABA is for physical anxiety and use a high dose without understanding they need to start low and use only what they need.
I shared my discussion with Dr. M in a Facebook post and Holly responded with what happened to her when she switched from GABA Calm (which has 125 mg GABA) to a 750 mg GABA product:
I experienced the niacin-like flush when I tried to go from GABA Calm [mostly dissolved in my mouth] to a pill form and didn’t realize the dosage would be way too high all at one time. The pill was 750 mg GABA [and swallowed with food], so it wasn’t going to work well anyway.
The flush lasted about 15-20 minutes. It was awful. I was sure I was going to throw up every time.
It took me a couple of weeks to figure out the cause. My therapist recommended your website and book and those helped me understand when to take it and why it would help.
When I eliminated the 750 mg GABA pill the symptoms completely went away.
Now I stick to GABA Calm. I take one in the morning and one before bed and sometimes one midday.
I appreciate Holly for sharing and I’m glad her and her therapist figured it out.
Resources if you are new to using GABA as a supplement
If you are new to using the the amino acids GABA as supplements, here is the Amino Acids Mood Questionnaire from The Antianxiety Food Solution (you can see the low GABA and other low neurotransmitter symptoms)
In case you’re new to the low GABA-type of anxiety, with low GABA levels you may experience physical-tension and stiff-and-tense-muscles, panic attacks, more physical tension in certain settings like public speaking or driving. You will often have the need to self-medicate to calm down, often with alcohol but sometimes with carbs and sugary foods.
Insomnia can also be caused by low GABA and you’ll experience physical tension in bed at night rather than the ruminating thoughts which is the low serotonin type of insomnia (although it’s not uncommon to experience both.) GABA also helps with muscle spasms and pain relief when muscles are tight.
If you suspect low levels of GABA or low serotonin and do not yet have my book, The Antianxiety Food Solution – How the Foods You Eat Can Help You Calm Your Anxious Mind, Improve Your Mood, and End Cravings, I highly recommend getting it and reading it before jumping in and using amino acids on your own so you are knowledgeable. And be sure to share it with the team you or your loved one is working with.
The book doesn’t include product names (per the publisher’s request) so this blog, The Antianxiety Food Solution Amino Acid and Pyroluria Supplements, lists the GABA products that I use with my individual clients and those in my group programs.
Get guidance in the GABA QuickStart Program
If you don’t feel comfortable reading my book, doing the low GABA symptoms questionnaire and doing trials of GABA on your own, you can get guidance from me in the GABA Quickstart Program.
We have an active and engaged community in the private Facebook group and there are 2 live Q & A calls with me.
One of the recent participants shared this lightbulb moment after starting with GABA Calm in the day and then shifting to 250 mg GABA at night only:
Listening to the GABA Quickstart made me realize something about the Source Naturals GABA Calm with the bit of tyrosine. I bought the NOW GABA powder and last night took 250mg (1/8 tsp and I have tiny measuring spoons) and woke up great.
I think I found my dose of GABA and I don’t think after my trial I’m a GABA in the day girl.
Have you used a high dose of GABA to start (or switched to a higher dose like Holly did) and experienced this unpleasant niacin-like flush?
How much caused this tingling sensation for you and how unpleasant was it? Did you push through and continue using the high dose? Or did you figure it out and use less? How long did it take you to figure it out?
Maybe you quit using GABA because of something like this – do you now feel inspired to try again?
If you’ve had success with using GABA please do share too.
If you’re a practitioner where did you learn about using GABA and was the recommendation was to use a high dose like 500 mg or 750 mg to start?
Feel free to ask your questions here too.
Be sure to share which product you used, how much you used and if you have low GABA symptoms.